Hunger of Memory

Hunger of Memory Study Guide

Welcome to the LitCharts study guide on Richard Rodriguez's Hunger of Memory. Created by the original team behind SparkNotes, LitCharts are the world's best literature guides.

Brief Biography of Richard Rodriguez

Born the third of four children to Mexican immigrant parents, Richard Rodriguez grew up in Sacramento, California. He was raised in a Spanish-speaking household until he entered Catholic school at age six, at which point his parents began speaking English at home in the hopes of improving Rodriguez’s confidence in his English-only classroom. In Hunger of Memory Rodriguez marks this as a turning point in his life. After doing well in secondary school, Rodriguez went on to receive his bachelor’s degree from Stanford University and his master’s degree from Columbia. He also spent a year in England working on his dissertation as a Fulbright Scholar. As he advanced in the world of academia, Rodriguez became more and more uncomfortable with the various successes he was achieving, attributing them to his status as a “minority” scholar. In the mid-1970s, just as he was beginning to receive national attention for his essays criticizing affirmative action, Rodriguez made the decision to leave academia for good, turning down teaching offers at several prestigious universities. Funded in part by a National Endowment for the Humanities Fellowship, Rodriguez spent the next six years after his departure from academia at work on what would become Hunger of Memory, which was ultimately published in 1982 to great acclaim. Since then, Rodriguez has continued writing and giving interviews, though none of his work has become as popular or well-known as Hunger of Memory.
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Historical Context of Hunger of Memory

In Hunger of Memory, Rodriguez references several important cultural movements of the 1960s and 70s, including the struggle for civil rights by black Americans and the women’s liberation movement. These movements inform the way that Rodriguez thinks about privilege and belonging in the context of a university setting. Another important phenomenon that Rodriguez addresses in his memoir is that of affirmative action. Upheld by the Supreme Court in 1978, affirmative action is a policy that asserts that identity markers such as race and gender can and should be considered by institutions of higher learning when considering applicants. Though affirmative action continues to generate controversy today, Rodriguez tackled this subject in its heyday and became infamous for being one of the first minority writers to denounce the policy.

Other Books Related to Hunger of Memory

Hunger of Memory is the first in Rodriguez’s trilogy of autobiographical works, followed by Days of Obligation: An Argument with My Mexican Father and Brown: The Last Discovery of America. These books deal with similar themes to Hunger of Memory, particularly public identity in America. Hunger of Memory is related to other books dealing with bicultural identity, such as Maxine Hong Kingston’s The Woman Warrior, and to books dealing with education, such as Reading Lolita in Tehran by Azar Nafisi. As an intellectual coming-of-age story, Hunger of Memory is similar to Annie Dillard’s memoir An American Childhood and Sherman Alexie’s novel The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian. Though Rodriguez actively hoped it would not be the case, Hunger of Memory has become part of the Chicano canon, a tradition that includes the work of Mexican American authors like Sandra Cisneros (author of The House on Mango Street), Oscar Zeta Acosta (Autobiography of a Brown Buffalo), and Rudolfo Anaya (Bless Me, Ultima).
Key Facts about Hunger of Memory
  • Full Title: Hunger of Memory: The Education of Richard Rodriguez: An Autobiography
  • When Written: 1976-1982
  • When Published: 1982
  • Literary Period: American modernism
  • Genre: Memoir; Intellectual Autobiography
  • Setting: For the most part, the California of Rodriguez’s childhood
  • Climax: When Rodriguez decides to leave academia as an act of protest, despite feeling called to teaching as a profession
  • Antagonist: The book does not have a single antagonist; rather, it shows Rodriguez wrestling with questions of identity, belonging, and guilt
  • Point of View: First person from Rodriguez’s perspective

Extra Credit for Hunger of Memory

Not exactly a sophomore slump. Though it was not published until a decade after Hunger of Memory, Rodriguez’s second book, Days of Obligation (in which he came out as gay), was a finalist for the 1993 Pulitzer Prize in General Nonfiction.

Lightning rod. While some critics derided Hunger of Memory because of Rodriguez’s stance on affirmative action and bilingual education, others praised it due to Rodriguez’s artistic style. Paul Zweig, writing for the New York Times, even compared Rodriguez to both Wordsworth and Proust!